Travel: Forget red roses, I'd rather be in Iran
Sunday 14 February 1999
For your benefit, in fact, I have gone to the trouble of thinking up more specious reasons for taking costly short holidays this year. I am using historical anniversaries as my criteria and if you ignore these I am afraid that we can only assume that you have no interest in the origins or destiny of humankind.
For a start, you had better head east as quickly as possible. It was exactly 20 years ago, in February 1979, that revolutionaries were taking over the government in Tehran. You'll need a multiple entry visa for Iran by the way: in June you'll be back for the 10th anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini's death, and in November it'll be 20 years since the seizure of the American Embassy by students.
June will be a busy month for you, because you will also need to be in Tiananmen Square in Peking for the 10th anniversary of the 4 June massacre, though I suggest that you do not try unfurling any posters while you are there. China, like Iran, is a country you'll be visiting at least twice this year. In October you'll be in Tiananmen Square again, this time for the 50th anniversary of Chairman Mao's proclamation of the People's Republic of China. A couple of weeks later you will be in New York for the 70th anniversary of the Wall Street Crash.
Don't imagine that this is the end of it. At the end of summer you will also have to visit Gdansk to consider the 60 years that have elapsed since Hitler's invasion of Poland. Indeed, you'll have to spend much of the autumn parachuting into Eastern Europe, commemorating the 10th anniversary of the overthrow of Communism in various capitals. You will share the joy of Berliners where the Wall used to be in November, and at Christmas you will dance with Romanians in Ceausescu's empty palaces.
But these 20th-century events are merely the tip of the iceberg. No self-respecting traveller could fail to visit South Africa on the 100th anniversary of the (second) Boer War, which broke out in October 1899. And I, for one, would not want to miss the 200th anniversary of Napoleon's seizure of power in Paris. Older anniversaries may not look as significant as these though I suppose one ought to make an effort to turn up for the 1,000th anniversary of the last expedition of the Byzantine Emperor Basil II against the Fatimids in Syria.
Having gone back that far, why stop? Some 1,200 years ago Charlemagne was gearing up to become Holy Roman Emperor. Nineteen hundred years ago Trajan was about to carry Roman armies to the Caspian Sea. Exactly 2,000 years ago, in 1 BC, Augustus Caesar was still fulminating over the banishment a year earlier of his daughter Julia for immoral practices.
After that dates become a little approximate, but I note that this is (roughly) the 3,000th anniversary of the construction of the Temple of Solomon, the 4,000th anniversary of the rise of the Hittites and the 6,000th anniversary of the origins of Sumerian pictographic writing. A tour through Israel, Turkey and Iraq appears to be called for.
Come to think of it, it is also 1,500,000 years since the invention of bifacially flaked hand axes in Africa. I suppose we had better book our anniversary tours before it is too late (but take care they don't clash with Fathers' Day).
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